Americans in underserved communities, often rural areas, face a multitude of obstacles that make it hard to get access to affordable medical care.
Health disparities in these rural communities come in the form of economic, social, racial, ethnic, geographic and health workforce factors, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges. Combined, these factors limit the access to care for many rural Americans, who make up 15 to 20 percent of the country’s population, according to the National Rural Health Association.
The Nurse Advocacy Center for the Underserved (NACU) is an organization that connects nursing students and registered nurses to partner locations in these underserved regions so they may provide care. NACU’s goal is to help people who have trouble finding or affording healthcare get the help they need to live long, happy lives. Volunteers with the organization offer their skills and services for many unpaid hours in order to provide health screenings, meals or distribution of various hygiene products.
NACU currently partners with four locations in Kentucky: Welcome House of Northern Kentucky, Madison Avenue Christian Church, Ida Spence United Methodist Mission at City Heights and Golden Towers. Each location provides opportunities for NACU’s workers to ensure visitors are healthy, happy, fed and clothed. Additionally, most partner locations have places to house the underserved, so care is in close proximity.
NACU also provides free testing for a variety of illnesses and conditions, as well as programs that educate the public on healthy practices to ensure that people are educated, aware and able to take care of themselves effectively.NACU has held seminars educating diabetics on how to make snacks that are considerate of their condition and sessions based on teaching people how to dress for extremely cold weather. NACU handed out nutritious snacks and gloves at the relevant seminar. Anyone can receive supplies from NACU, though healthcare is only provided for individuals over the age of 18.
Care beyond the body
“As far as experience with the clients at the [Madison Avenue Christian Church], a lot of them just want someone to talk to,” Drake Main, a three-semester NACU nursing student, said. “Their stories range from unfortunate accidents, to drug abuse, to one small decision in their life that changed their path. Most of them are extremely grateful for the meal and the opportunity to talk to someone and just get stuff off their minds.”
Michael Popper, another nursing student who spent the first seven weeks of the semester at Madison Avenue, had a similar experience and insights.
“When it comes to helping others, nursing needs to extend from just hospitals and patients. It needs to move to educating, helping and mentoring the underserved populations that make up a greater number of people than we would realize,” Popper said.
NACU began as a capstone project by a nursing student who conducted research comparing community health to whether healthcare was brought to the underserved or if patients had to go to a local clinic to get it.
The research found higher instances of positive health outcomes “when you bring the ‘clinic/healthcare services’ to the high risk, underserved populations where they live, work or play, instead of making the clients come to a medical office or clinic,” Jennifer Hunter, director of NACU said. As a result of the research, NACU was given a test run in Covington.
Since then, NACU has served numerous patients and received many donations and grants in order to continue serving the local community. Hunter recently won first place and a $7,500 Northern Kentucky Funders’ Grant for NACU. Out of 80 applicants, NACU came in first.
NACU is entirely donation and volunteer-based. Any donations received by NACU are divided among the four partner locations, and no one involved with or working for NACU is paid. Monetary donations go entirely to purchasing supplies for clinics, meals and education sessions, with no percentage taken for administration or other fees.
Students can volunteer their time with NACU by contacting Jennifer Hunter. Anyone can volunteer, regardless of major. Students not pursuing a career or degree in nursing can help serve meals and deliver and distribute donations and supplies.
Nursing students can enroll in Hunter’s special NACU-focused class, where they’ll work at one of NACU’s partner locations. Nursing students have the opportunity to teach seminars about health, featuring topics such as dental hygiene, nutrition and how to dress for extreme weather.
Those interested in donating hygiene products, socks, gloves or other items to NACU can look at their website’s recommended list of donations and deliver any items to FH 499D. Contact Jennifer Hunter at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.